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Black moms react to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: 'Representation matters'

As Ketanji Brown Jackson makes history, Black moms reflect on the importance of what her historic Supreme Court nomination means to them.

Editor's note: This story was first published as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was going through the congressional hearing process. Now that she has been confirmed as the first Black woman Supreme Court justice, we are sharing it again.

On Thursday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman in U.S. history to become a Supreme Court justice.

As President Joe Biden's Supreme Court nominee went through a historic confirmation hearing process, Black moms shared with TODAY Parents what her nomination means to them and their families.

To date, there have been a total of 120 justices to serve on the Court — 115 have been men and 117 have been white. Not only will Jackson become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, she will also be the first Black mom. Jackson, 51, shares two daughters, ages 21 and 17, with her husband of 25 years, Dr. Patrick Jackson.

"Girls, I know it has not been easy, as I have tried to navigate the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood," Jackson said in her confirmation hearing opening statement. "And I fully admit, I did not always get the balance right. But I hope that you've seen that with hard work, determination and love it can be done."

TODAY Parents spoke to six Black moms who were willing to share what Jackson's nomination means to them, and how they would be impacted if she were to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Their comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Deborah Porter, mother of 3, Washington, D.C.

"As I sit here watching the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, I see a woman who has already overcome many odds. I think about my young adult daughter and others like her who are accomplished young Black women in their respective fields. Whether it’s finance, marketing or others. I think about the meetings they attend and how it’s sometimes assumed they are unprepared or unknowledgeable about the topic at hand. Yet, they graduated at the top of their class from universities all over the country.

"I’ve seen these hearings over the last two decades and I believe that Judge Jackson’s every word and her many actions will be viewed under a microscope and in some cases taken out of context. But I also believe that she is a woman of faith, character and conviction and that is what will shine through.

"My hope is that classrooms around the country are watching and engaging students in this historic moment. This appointment is as important, if not more so, for every white child to see. Those who have no Black or brown neighbors, friends or family members. Judge Jackson will be tasked to undo stereotypes that were set in place long before this moment."

Paula Swift, mother of two, California

“As a woman of color, I have always been acutely aware that we are largely underrepresented in board rooms and other decision-making roles. I also began to take note of the organizational structure of the companies where I had been employed over the course of my career, and the lack of diversity at the management and executive levels. These observations, coupled with a desire to launch my own consulting firm, inspired my leap of faith and decision to step away from my previous career and further explore ways in which I might effectuate a mind shift in spaces where change is essential. 

“It is exciting to see Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson join the highest court in our land. It is important for my daughters, 29 and 19, to see themselves in Judge Brown Jackson as a representation of what they can become, with hard work and dedication.

“I am happy for my girls and I am happy for our country.”

Jacqueline Shaulis, pictured with her son, nieces, and nephews.
Jacqueline Shaulis, pictured with her son, nieces, and nephews.Courtesy Jacqueline Shaulis

Jacqueline Shaulis, mother of one, New York

“As a fellow introverted Black woman, it makes me proud beyond measure to see Ketanji Brown Jackson being the epitome of what it means to be influential and introverted in a way that honors both.

“As a mother, her confirmation would further solidify her as an example of many lessons — lessons she’s already helping me teach my son and my nieces and nephews, (including) working hard over time toward a goal as a (child) can create opportunities for greatness as an (adult). (She’s showing them that you can) love your unique name and be proud of its origin and what it represents, (and that) no matter how successful you are, there will be critics but that shouldn’t stop you from diligently being your best.

“(She’s showing them) that there are many ways you can be seen and heard — you don’t have to be the loudest to make an impact.

“(And she’s proof that) success is a process that affects more than just you — you never know who you’ll inspire just by doing your best with a sense of pride and purpose.”

Rhonda Mattox, mother of one, Arkansas

"I am a Southern woman physician of color who has been participating in and leading uncomfortable discussions around racial injustice, mental health and grief for nearly twenty years. However in the last five years, these conversations have become more necessary across the board — not just in relationship to conversations about Ahmad, George Floyd and Breanna Taylor but in relationship to gun violence and micro-aggressions.

"Representation matters in our community. It helps not only with legal maneuverings and fair representation, but for the self-esteem and career trajectories of children of color as well. Seeing people in positions (of power) shifts career ambitions.

"Being represented on the highest court in the land is not just about the law — it’s about who is watching, too. That representation helps to break those proverbial glass ceilings in our minds and our ambitions. It also increases the chances that we will be more fairly represented in the greatest court in the land."

Leslie Ford, mother of two, Massachusetts

"It’s important to have Black mothers represented on the Supreme Court for many reasons. Many of the critical issues in front of the court — like gun control — disproportionately impact the Black community, and Black mothers are more likely to navigate the downstream effects from certain court decisions.

"Representation on the court also sends a powerful signal that we’re actively shaping infrastructure and in leadership roles that support long-term, systemic change.

"I have a son and a daughter, and it’s a gift for our children to see Black mothers not just holding positions of power in our communities, but in our government and legal system."

Viergina Dudley, pictured with her two sons.
Viergina Dudley, pictured with her two sons.Courtesy Viergina Dudley

Viergina Dudley, mother of two, New Jersey

"This is truly a profound moment. As a Black mom and a therapist, this is about representation. So many of these prestigious positions have never been for someone like Ketanji; someone like me; someone like my family members and some of my clients.

"Having someone that has the lived experience of being a Black woman in America and a Black mom I’m hoping will bring value. Many of the people in positions of power make decisions about the lives of individuals without any clue what they endure, but Ketanji represents people who were previously underrepresented. I have two beautiful boys and they need to see that women too can be part of the most prestigious court in the United States. 

"It’s about a fight and journey that has spanned 233 years. For her to become the first Black woman appointed to the Supreme Court shows me that the fight that our ancestors went through and the one that we are still in is not all in vain. To know that my nieces will look up someday and see people like 'us' in positions of power will be a powerful demonstration to them that women, but most importantly Black women are breaking barriers. We are smart and we can stand toe to toe with anyone.

"Ketanji Brown is doing this all while remaining true to herself. Oftentimes, Black women feel or assume we have to change who we are to meet the standards of what America believes the norm is. Ketanji is wearing her beautiful locks — the same hair that brought about stigmatization on African Americans (and) the same hair that has stopped us from getting jobs. 

"This phenomenal woman will be representing an entire culture."